The Beautiful "Cinderellas" of the Wildflower Planting Scene
Back when the founders of our seed business, Chy and Ray Allen, owned a wildflower-based tourist attraction, thousands of visitors a year would enter their seed shop and come face to face with the full array of our wildflower seed products. Many were clearly astonished. Being able to choose from dozens of wildflower species and mixes, for novice and veteran gardeners alike is a real 'kid in a candy store' experience. Most were soon eagerly picking handfuls of packets, "oohing" and "aahing" over the display photos and choosing favorite color combinations, delighted with the prospect of their own future backyard spectaculars. Then, with some shoppers, a very strange thing would happen; suddenly the enthusiasm would dampen, and disappointment would cloud their faces. Holding out some of the packets as though they were suddenly contaminated- they'd say: "Oh! These are annuals!" and put them back on the rack.
This reaction always amazed the Allens. Annuals (shown here in full bloom) include some of the most colorful, productive, and easy to grow of all the wildflower species. To exclude them from a wildflower planting seems very silly. Yes, they only live one season, but what about all those flats of bedding plants that we rush to the garden centers for each spring? How lack-luster our summer borders would be without the quick, sure color of the marigolds, petunias, and impatiens. It's the same in a wildflower planting. Whether it's a two-acre meadow, or a tiny suburban border, adding some annuals each spring, is an easy and efficient way to substantially increase the variety and abundance of the season's bloom.
Annuals evolved to grow, bloom and produce seed for the next generation in just one growing season. Because they don't have to save any energy reserves for the next year, they are generally able to produce more flowers and thus more seed than most perennials. This combination of rapid growth, and generous seed production has been the key to their success in the plant kingdom. In nature, annuals are the quick fixers, the ever-ready exploiters of open, disturbed soil. After a forest fire, flood, overgrazing, drought, or other cause for the established vegetation being removed; the seeds of annual species (some perhaps having lain dormant for years) are ready to sprout and bloom and make seeds which will drop and wait for the next opportunity to grow. With annual wildflowers, we can use these same traits to our advantage for a yearly boost to the flower variety in our own plantings.
If you already have an established wildflower meadow, the simplest way to add annuals each spring is to create a border strip. Using a roto-tiller, just cultivate a narrow band along the edge of your established meadow, and sow a couple of your favorite annual species. Keeping in mind that all species have a particular time of bloom, you should choose at least two — a favorite early bloomer like, say, Cornflower, and a favorite late bloomer like Wild Sunflower.
Having an early and late bloomer will assure a nice succession of bloom. If you really want to create a profusion of many types of flowers, choose a pre-made mixture like our All Annual Mix. The All Annual Mix will give several varieties blooming simultaneously throughout the summer, and into the autumn till frost.
Another way to boost your established wildflower meadow with annuals is to do some spot tilling. In the spring, go through your meadow and look for spots that have the sparsest returning growth. With a small hand tiller, or even a good sharp shovel, re-cultivate some 2-3 foot patches. On this loose, bare earth, sow the annual wildflower seed. In this way, you can bring the flush of new, bright annual bloom throughout the meadow, and still enjoy the steady show of the established perennials.
Of course, you don't have to have an existing meadow, or a huge yard to enjoy the reward of annual wildflowers each summer. Reserve a section of your vegetable garden and include your favorite annuals. Many make great cut flowers, and when you harvest your beans and tomatoes, you can pick some wonderful bouquets. Remember, with most annuals, the more you cut the flowers, the more bloom they will produce. (Since annuals whole goal in life is to make flowers and seed — you can prolong the bloom time by keeping all spent flowers removed, and thus stimulate the plants to make more.) You can also integrate annual wildflowers into your "tame" flower borders. When you are putting in your petunias and ageratum, save some space to sow some Poppy or Coreopsis seed.
Don't forget the window boxes and planters. Some of the more compact annual wildflowers, like Drummond Phlox, Baby Blue Eyes, and None-So-Pretty, seem to be made for containers.
Why not have Fare-Well-To-Spring in pots along with Geraniums on the terrace?
Most of all, because they are fast growers, annual wildflowers are fun! In this uncertain world, it's nice to be assured of some instant rewards. So when you are choosing your wildflowers, don't limit yourself to the perennials. No, the annuals won't "come back," but why deprive yourself of all the beauty that they so easily give here and now?